My Friends

There have been many influences in my life and it would require an entire web site and the rest of my life to acknowledge all of them. This page is dedicated to my friends who are now relegated only to memory. I was proud and lucky to know them all. Whatever they may be to the reader, they were important to me. If my only legacy is to be remembered as someone who was honered to know them well-enough to call them "friends," then it is sifficient and I am content. They are listed in alphabetical order, not in order of their value to me.

 

Ansel Adams 1902-1984

My friend, my neighbor for many years, a mentor. He was extraordinarily generous with his time and his knowledge. His influence guided me to what would become my career.

In 1973 he bought the very first print I ever sold. At the time I did not realize how his encouragement provided the motivation I needed to pursue photography. I know now that it was not the print he wanted, but rather to slyly cultivate the passion he saw in me for the medium of photography. That was and is, the single most important purchase of my work. I think he knew that.

He was brilliant, generous, funny and I cannot say enough good things about him. In many ways he began my photographic career. I am not alone in that distinction. I doubt that anyone in the 20th century has influenced photography more than Ansel. I have said it many times - the public at large knows only two photographers: Ansel Adams and whoever photographed their wedding. It is a fitting tribute to Ansel, his work and his contributions to the medium.

 

 

Mary Black 1954-2013

This is the most difficult memoir I have ever written - that I shall ever write. Mary's death is so recent and her loss so profound, I can barely see to type this. She was the loveliest person I have ever known and my best friend for 40 years. While she lived, my own life had value through the mere fact that she loved me. Without her, I don't know where I stand. She saw more good in me than I see in myself. She saw good in everyone. She said, "No one is ugly after you know them." She was so young and so right.

In my darkest moments, when I contemplated drastic solutions, I was always brought back by the thought: "That would hurt Mary. I can't do that!" She saved my life many times. I told her this years ago and she said: "That's one of the reasons I'm here." No one ever touched me so deeply and so completely. What I owe her is beyond measure. I never had to try to be a better man around her - I was a better man because of her.

She is eighteen years old in the photo and is as when I met her. Through the physical changes of 40 years, I always saw her like this. I shall always see her this way: Young of heart, gracious of spirit and the most loving person ever to walk this earth. The smartest thing I ever did was to love her and to always, always, always tell her so. In that respect I have no regrets.

The world is a darker place for her passing. Had it been possible, I would have given my life in exchange for hers. It is an indifferent universe that would not allow me to do so. I have lost my greatest, sweetest love.

 

Terry Gale Clark 1944-2013

Less than a month ago, I lost my best friend. Now a terrible automobile accident has taken another. I am sick at heart over the death of my friend Terry Clark. Terry took command of the NSS Convention vertical workshop in 2000. Since I had already conducted the workshop for many years with my friend David McClurg, Terry initially sought my help in reorganizing the venue. He welcomed my recommendations without worrying about his own ego and he proceeded to make the vertical workshop one of the best attended sessions at the NSS Conventions. I worked with this great bear-of-a-man for over 13 years and in all that time we never quarreled or had a confrontation over differences of opinion. He always greeted me with a smile and a bad joke, often at his own expense.

During his venue as Workshop coordinator, Terry and his wife Jenny facilitated the education of literally hundreds of new cavers, young and old alike. In many cases, Terry was their first instructor of vertical techniques and I am confident that his positive input saved many lives. He was big man in both body and spirit. I reach only to his shoulder in both respects. Truly a "gentle giant," Terry's formidable appearance and no-nonsense attitude about the safety of his students belied a truly kindly and generous nature. His was a big heart in a big man. The world has has lost a man of immense value and there is no good reason for it.

I cannot recall any of the vertical section instructors EVER being reticent about bringing up their concerns to Terry. He always met criticism with a profound respect for the opinions and input of others. If you treated him with respect, it was returned many times over. Terry always treated me with the utmost respect, both as a man and as an instructor.

Terry deserved a less violent end.

 

Ephraim Doner 1905-1991

What can one write about Ephraim Doner that has not already been written and better? He was undeniably magic and the most extraordinary human I have ever met. At his request I paid him a dime so he could be my Guru. It was the best dime I ever spent.

Painter, scholar in 6 languages, raconteur extraordinare, an undefeated ping-pong master, erotic tile maker, Judas, the false prophet (his own words), mystic, psychic, scientist, Saint, sinner, Rabbi, Priest and born-again Atheist. The best and the worst of mankind and the envy of the Gods. Read Henry Miller's account of Ephraim in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. Even Miller could not express the inexpressible and irrepressible Doner.

If a murderer entered Ephraim's home intent on crime, ten minutes later he would be drinking Vodka at the dinner table with Ephraim, sobbing out an apology and promising to return later to pay back the $20 dollars that Ephraim just loaned him. Such was Ephraim's magic.

I did not know my grandparents, but I had Ephraim and his wife Rosa literally next door to me for more than a decade. I was the luckiest man in the world to have known them. All who knew them would say the same. After meeting Ephraim, a small child asked her father "Daddy, was that God?" I ask myself the same question every day.

 

Rosa Doner 1905-1998

It would be easy to be eclipsed by a personality as strong as Ephraim Doner's. Fortunately for his wife Rosa, she never took him that seriously. She would greet you at the door with hugs and the first things you noticed was the explosion of white, frizzled hair and the marvelous New England accent. It was always love at first sight.

If Ephraim was not really God, it was only because Rosa would not tolerate such behavior in her home. It may be that her magic was just as strong as his or it may have been that she just knew who the real boss was.

She was everyone's prefect grandmother who could also sit you down and tell you of the time in WWII that she and a group of other Jewish, anti-nazi artists gathered together in a New York garret to deal with a Nazi spy they had discovered in their midst. They dealt harshly.

If Ephraim was my surrogate Grandfather, Rosa was surely my Grandmother. A woman to be reckoned with - a woman to be admired -a woman to be loved...and I did.

 

David F. Drake 1929-2007

My dear friend for more than 30 years. A photographer and teacher who did far more than teach and photograph. He championed everyone around him as long as they were genuine and eager to learn. His support of me and my friend John Sexton as people and as photographers was unwavering. David kept us going in the right direction with his gentle guidance.

I can say without hesitation that everyone who knew him cared deeply about him. What better legacy can a man hope for? Soft-spoken, gentle, he deeply touched all who came within his influence - both photographically and personally. Will Rogers said "I never met a man I didn't like." Regarding David, I can say "I never met a man who didn't like him."

He influenced hundreds of young photographers through his teaching and if his own photographic career has been less than celebrated by the public at large, just mention his name to anyone who knew him. They'll all say the same thing: "Great photographer, wonderful man."

 

Richard E. Loftis 1938-2010

I have no regrets in saying that Dick was a difficult man to like. I also admit that it takes one to know one. That being said, I can think of no one who loved the medium of photography more than Dick Loftis.

He was prolific to say the least and he worked until he could no longer hold a camera. What more could an artist want as a legacy? I wish I had the confidence in my own work that he had in his.

My favorite story about Dick was when I introduced him to Ansel Adams. While visiting me in Carmel, CA, Dick had refused to meet Ansel - probably because he had placed Ansel on a pedestal too high to reach. I resorted to subterfuge. Without telling him where we were going, I drove him to Ansel's house. Dick spent the next two hours in almost speechless admiration while both Ansel and I tried to draw him out. When it was time to leave, Dick could not sit still long enough for the 2-minute car ride back to my house. It took him over an hour to walk the 3/4 mile back to my place. I don't know what he did in that time, but I am certain that he remembered it for the rest of his life. Such is true passion for Art.

 

Nancy Thurnall-Meyer 1934-2006

For more than 40 years I knew this intelligent and fine woman. Our conversations had everything you could hope for: Scathing wit, humor, a multitude of topics, no nonsense "You can't get away with that crap" confrontations, and most of all a warm appreciation of others and a respect for a diversity of ideas.

She and her husband Bill were my earliest caving mentors and fortunately for me they lived nearby. The evening dinners with conversations of substance that went late into the night are my fondest memories of Nan.

Her death was sudden, unexpected and unfair, but I am eternally grateful that the last time I saw her I gave her a hug and kiss goodbye after dinner. It was the day before she died. She knew how much I cared for her because she always made it easy for everyone to show their affection. I will always think of her laughing.

 

William Meyer 1931-2011

Bill was my first caving mentor. I met him in 1966 and we were close friends from the start. He was an old-school climber and taught me how important "the basics" were in understanding why modern mountaineering techniques became what they are today. The knowledge he passed on to me, I have passed on to my students. We all owe him a huge debt because we are all the better for his influence.

Bill was an odd mixture of practicality and eclectic pack rat. His "other" house contained a stupendous array of books, scientific instruments and genuinely interesting "stuff." Touring through it was like a narrated trip through Wonderland with Bill thinking, if not always saying, "Curiouser and curiouser."

Ironically, no one was more curious than Bill, in both his eccentric personality and his endless intellectual investigation of everything. He reminds me of an old story: When asked by a curious child, "Daddy, is there anything you DON'T know?" The father answered tongue in cheek, "Yes son... several things."

 

Bart Rowlett 1955-2012

My most unlikely friend and one who suffered a cruel and horribly prolonged end. He did not deserve the fate he suffered - but who does? We could not have been more opposite in personality - he was a stoic, politically conservative, and the most rational person I have ever met. I am highly emotional, a moderate liberal, utterly irrational and dumber than a bag of hammers. Despite these differences, I loved and respected him immensely and I think he felt the same, but could not show it.

The "hint" of a smile that you see in the photo is virtually all the emotion that he ever shared, yet he felt things deeply, much more than he ever let on. One of my main goals was to try to try to make him laugh aloud. I usually failed, but when I was successful, it was often at my expense. He knew I sacrificed myself deliberately to see him smile and it was always worth it

Although it was quite easy to see how he functioned in the world, I am certain that he never knew how I managed to survive. He lived by his intellect - I lived by whatever means possible. He couldn't imagine that subconscious observation could play a positive role in anything, much less a real-life situation. He was the most conscious person I ever knew.

We differed dramatically, but I never doubted that Bart's political opinions were based on what was best for everyone. Unlike most conservatives who are motivated by cloaked self-interest and concealed fear, Bart really cared about the welfare of everyone, not just what benefited him personally. I have seldom met a less self-interested man and that is probably why he meant so much to me. His motives were pure and unselfish.

Bart's last years were a sad trauma of progressive, physical disintegration similar to ALS. Those of us who watched him suffer felt an uncomfortable relief when he died. Uncomfortable because he was gone and we remained, but happy that his physical indignities were finally over. Ironically, only two months before he died he said to me: "The doctors don't know what's wrong, but they say that it probably won't kill me." I don't know if I am happy or sad that the doctors were wrong. I would give much to tell Bart how much I loved him. I hope he knew.

 

Jim Trochowski 1944-1976

Jim was my best friend. He was the first person whom I loved, who died. He was a superlative artist and a blossoming photographer who never had the chance to show the world what he could accomplish.

I was 100 miles away at the moment he died without warning of a brain aneurysm. An icy cold wind blew across me and I felt his spirit go as surely as if I had been in the room with him. I told my companions that he had died and forced them to immediately drive me back to Los Angeles. My sister met me as I exited the car and said "Jim died at 4 pm this afternoon." This was the precise moment that I felt him leave. It is the only time such a thing has happened to me and I hope it is the last.

I grew up that day. I would rather have remained a child.

 

Brett Weston 1911-1993

The greatest artist I have ever known. To the world of photography Brett was a romantic mix of saytr and photographic savant. "Photography, cars and women" were his only public loves.

Generally courteous, even courtly in public forums, he was unabashedly ribald in private. His social mores were strictly self-defined. Some ideals were adhered to with the unshakable zeal of a fundamentalist, while others could be laughingly discarded as inconvenient to a working artist or working lover. He was a man of extremes, but they were guileless extremes.

He refused to teach, and yet somehow forced me to learn. He was a mass of contradictions as are all great personalities. More than once he infuriated me by his total self-indulgence and indifference toward me, his friends and his family. More than once he demonstrated the most genuine affection that I have ever seen. More than once he showed me that if it came from him, it was real.

I often found him very difficult to like, but I never had a moment when I did not love him. I still don’t know why.